On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was sharing a 10’x10’ office with Mitos’ first two employees when someone rushed in to tell us that one of the World Trade Centers had been struck by an airplane. The three of us immediately rushed over to a neighboring office to follow the coverage on TV. I regret to say that I watched the second plane strike the second tower on live television. As the tragedy unfolded, I numbly called my good friend, David Suarez, who was working as a consultant on the 99th floor of the North Tower. None of my calls went through so I frantically tried to e-mail him, but again, no response.
At noon, I closed the office at Mitos and drove to my parents’ house. Later in the afternoon of September 11th, my father and I decided to escape the madness by going sailing on the Chesapeake Bay. There was not a boat in the water nor a plane in the sky. It was eerily peaceful, yet that afternoon marked the beginning of a different world for me and for many others of my generation who considered war as a distant image that occurred only in foreign lands.
David did not return my call nor respond to my e-mail. His body was not uncovered until the spring of 2002. You’ll remember that I roomed with David for two years during our college days. He was my cohort in our carpet-selling business. More than any other person I have known, he looked for the positive aspect in the people and the world around him. The New York Times wrote the following story about 24-year-old David:
David Suarez cared. He cared about people who did not have his opportunities, people who did not have his education, people who had to struggle. “He reached out to people in a very warm and genuine way,” said Ted Suarez, his father. “Everyone remembered his smile. From a little boy, he had a smile that was very endearing.”
Mr. Suarez, 24, was a systems consultant who worked for Deloitte Consulting. He reported each day to the office of his client, Marsh & McLennan, in the World Trade Center. He was in the process of sending out applications to colleges, because next fall he wanted to embark on an M.B.A. before returning to Deloitte. His hope was to go to Harvard.
But he always made time for the needy. Social concern was a family tradition. He volunteered for the nonprofit group New York Cares. He worked in soup kitchens and tutored high school students for their college entrance exams.
He always gave the disadvantaged the benefit of the doubt. Friends told a story about how they found him once talking to some beggars outside a bar. Mr. Suarez asked one of the beggars, who was in a wheelchair, “What would it take to make you happy?”
The man said, “Give me $20.”
Mr. Suarez gave him $20.
The beggar got up, folded up his wheelchair and walked off.
Mr. Suarez was not angry. The episode did not make him jaded. He shrugged it off. By his thinking, he would rather lose $20 here and there to an impostor than risk spurning someone who really needed his help. He kept on giving.
I was not with David when he gave away the $20, but it serves as a perfect example of his character. You could turn to him when you needed a positive outlook or a word of encouragement. During my years at Penn State, David was the one with whom I could debate the topics of the day and share my crazy concepts. On occasion, I was actually able to convince him that my ideas were worth pursuing. David was a young man, just starting out his life in New York, yet hundred of mourners flocked to his funeral. As so often is true of great people such as David, I selfishly thought I was the only one that had a unique relationship with him. But in reality his magnetic personality drew people to him and provided each of them with a feeling of special friendship.
David’s father presented a eulogy that I (and I suspect many others who were there) reflect upon on a daily basis.
“There is much I could say about David. You probably already know that he was an Eagle Scout, that he graduated from Penn State, and that he was a great employee. But that is not what made him special to us. What made him special is that he valued relationships far more than material achievement and was not willing to gain the world at the expense of his soul. After reading the stories that many of you have written about David, there is very little that I could say that you do not already know. I will therefore, ask you to close your eyes. To listen to my words, and your own thoughts about him. To see his big smile, to remember his zest for life and in particular to recall an event you experienced with him. I will ask you to dream. Yes, to dream of what our lives can be like having known him. I will further ask you to commit to one action, which only you will know. For if we convert his and our dreams into action, he will live on through us to influence others and thus, his life will continue to have meaning.”
In his writings (for his MBA application) here is how he described the start of a normal workday: ‘The subway pulls into the Fulton Street station. I look up from the New York Times, grab my bag and join the migration toward the World Trade Center. The Marsh project is at an interesting point. I settle into my desk on the 99th floor, to the backdrop of the Brooklyn Bridge and the morning sun hovering over the distant Long Island. I start the day by reviewing the goal list I created last night. I look up, the sun has risen slightly and people have begun to trickle in. Ahhh… I am ready to begin.’
And ready he was, for it was on a day such as he described, that he took his first step into eternity.
David, we all are running the race to arrive where you are. As a runner, you never were one to wait around. You got there first. We mourn your departure but rejoice at your arrival. With the grace of God we will see you some day. To paraphrase from Ted Kennedy’s address memorializing his bother Robert: Most of us dream dreams and ask why? David, you would ask, why not? and then proceed to make them happen. We must now make his dreams and our dreams come true.”
I did make a commitment that day. I committed to a dream that David and I shared – leaving the world a better place than we found it. This is my purpose.
I often find myself wishing that David had woken up 15 minutes late that morning or missed the train so that I would still be able to debate the issues of the day with my good friend. But as is so often true in life, it is the small things that make an enormous difference and there is a certain randomness to the world around us. David’s story taught me not only these facts, but how short and precious life can be.
We all have a role to play in society. I am not a physician or a politician. Like so many other people, I was born an entrepreneur and found purpose in it. With the help of many others, I have been able to keep the entrepreneur in me alive and convert my inherited traits into the skills needed to succeed. I am fortunate to be able to give back to the world by helping it operate more efficiently, thus creating good jobs and increasing the quality of life for employees.
This is the difference that I can make.
I hope that this book provides guidance for you to do the same.